digital factory

Scotiabank shifts gears with new Digital Factory

Facilities to support institution as it transforms into fintech company
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
By Michelle Ervin

The half-pixelated gear that hangs above the entryway symbolizes the output of Scotiabank’s new Digital Factory in Toronto, opened last fall. There, 200 team members and growing develop digital products rapidly with input from customers.

The facilities are designed to support the institution’s transition from a financial services company to a technology company that offers financial services, or fintech company, as these entities have come to be known.

In the current landscape of disruption, companies of various kinds have been forced to adapt or risk becoming extinct. The half-pixelated gear conjures the past of the industrial revolution and the present of the digital revolution. The Digital Factory similarly incorporates nods to the foundation on which Scotiabank’s success was built while embracing the future.

Plans for the new facility and team date back to 2015, when the financial institution made the strategic decision to amalgamate its disparate agile groups under one roof, to fully capture the benefits of rapid product development, said Kevin Stewart, vice president of digital enablement at Scotiabank.

“We thought of it as a lighthouse for the rest of the bank — on emerging technologies, the way we work, different types of technologies and different types of configurations of real estate, on how we would organize our people to accomplish tasks,” he said.

The interiors of the low-rise red-brick building at 333 King St. East showed signs of its 1970s-era origins, but it was the only space of its size that delivered the must-haves on Scotiabank’s list. It was in close proximity to the institution’s downtown Toronto headquarters, it had an open floorplate and soaring ceilings, and it was priced right because the financial institution was taking over the previous tenant’s lease, said Stewart.

The imagery of the factory gear figured in the layout of the 70,000-square-foot space as parti diagrams were drawn, said John Capobianco, design director, IA Interior Architects.

“In addition to that was this idea of flow — flow of information, flow of communications, flow of technology, flow forward,” he explained. “And that’s the inspiration behind all of these rounded corners and all the very sort of dramatic circulation through the space.”

A tour path takes visitors upstairs from street level, into a central rotunda and through six different neighbourhoods, which each have their own colour and theme. The colours, which facilitate wayfinding, are inspired by Scotiabank’s ‘Smartie’ palette and are matched to neighbourhoods according to Feng Shui principles.

“It (the Chinese system of organizing spaces for harmony) was actually culturally relevant to a lot of the people who are here and might be an attraction tool,” observed Beverly Horii, managing director, IA Interior Architects.

Around the central rotunda, glass-walled meeting rooms act as ‘portals’ into neighbourhoods, said Horii, with monikers for innovators and innovations based on theme. As examples, the architecture neighbourhood features a Zaha Hadid room and the film neighbourhood a Netflix room.

The layout intentionally places sit-to-stand workstations on the two-thirds of the floorplan with windows and the distributed amenities on the one-third of the floorplan without windows. The workstations are configured to support collaboration among members of agile teams of up to 14 people, which form around projects.

Rows of workstations position people face to face, with minimal barriers between them. Sweeping whiteboard walls frame team spaces on either side, accounting for a portion of the approximately 18,000 square feet of writeable surfaces in the Digital Factory.

Drop-down collaborative tables, which act as end caps to the rows of workstations, provide a different setting for activities such as coding and programming, pointed out Edmund Chang, senior project manager, Scotiabank. A customer usability lab offers a place to gather feedback during the rapid product development process.

The Plant room provides an escape, with its lush greenery and bay windows overlooking King Street East and a street-level retail branch of Scotiabank. In addition to foosball and ping-pong tables, which are becoming staples of the modern workplace, the Digital Factory has at least one other novel amenity. Steps up from the team-building zone is a bowling alley.

The long and narrow ‘concrete bunker’ was a relic of the former tenant, the Toronto Sun newspaper. It served as the fire-proof archive room, which rose four feet off the floorplate to accommodate the printing press that used to occupy the space below. The realization that the space was the right dimensions for a regulation-sized bowling alley presented a viable alternative to an expensive redo, explained Chang.

Nearby, a speakeasy-style bar provides a venue for celebrations when teams complete projects, which is an important part of the culture at the Digital Factory, said Chang. Here, the retro interiors, complete with vintage Gramophone, recall the financial institution’s roots with penny replica-lined walls and a 700-pound vault door worthy of a bank heist movie.

One of the causes for team celebrations has been Blockchain, the first prototype to come out of the Digital Factory. Users can load the mobile wallet like a Presto card and use it to make direct transactions (read: peer to peer, without an intermediary).

Scotiabank is rolling out one of Blockchain’s first applications at South Side Betty’s, the Digital Factory’s full-service kitchen. There, employees will be able to pay for food and drinks with the swipe of their hand. The application combines the mobile wallet with a biometic security system called MorphoWave.

The biometric solution, which comes from the French company Safran, was also deployed as the security system for the Digital Factory. MorphoWave reads fingerprints with high-speed infrared cameras and lasers posted at Plexiglas turnstiles. Scotiabank looked at a number of biometric security systems before landing on MorphoWave, which was selected for its ability to efficiently handle high volumes of traffic, said Stewart.

Other state-of-the-art technology includes access point systems from Cisco that allow most employees to work wirelessly. Developers initially expressed reservations about being able to code away from their workstations, recalled Chang, but their fears were assuaged when they learned the technology would enable them to upload and download at 400 megabytes per second.

“A functional aspect was: Great space, but if I can’t do the work that I need to do, then it’s just a great space,” he said of this project consideration. “At the end of the day, we’re building great products for our customers.”

Digital Factory teams have also developed a product for their colleagues. Trifecta is a digital app that equips new hires with information on everything from cultural norms, such as leaving work areas to socialize with colleagues over lunch, to wayfinding. Currently at around 200 team members, the Digital Factory group is expected to expand up to around 350 team members.

The new space was built out over the span of roughly 16 weeks following the August civic holiday, with existing employees relocating before the end of last fall.

As it adapts to a technology-driven future, Scotiabank hasn’t forgotten its history. In the Digital Factory, mounted against brick and sculpted from metal, the financial institution’s circa 1921 coat of arms forges a link to the company’s East Coast heritage in Nova Scotia.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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